FAA denies employees' request for special IT pay rate

The Federal Aviation Administration will not give some of its computer specialists a new governmentwide pay raise for information technology workers, the agency said in a March 1 letter to the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) union. The Office of Personnel Management announced the new pay hike in early November. It applies only to certain positions at grades GS-5 through GS-12 in covered occupational series. They are computer specialists (GS-334), computer engineers (GS-854) and computer scientists (GS-1550). The pay raise became effective Jan. 1. Union officials filed a grievance Jan. 31 saying that a group of GS-334 employees at the FAA should get the raise automatically. But agency officials said the pay raise isn't automatic for FAA employees because the agency has a different pay scale than the General Schedule. The March 1 letter from FAA said the union must negotiate all pay changes. "It has been PASS's position to date that when the agency adopts changes proposed by OPM in other benefits, e.g. sick leave donation, the FAA can not unilaterally implement such a change without first fulfilling our duty to bargain under law," wrote Raymond B. Thoman, deputy assistant administrator for labor and employee relations at the FAA. Thomas also pointed out that automatically giving the pay raise to the IT workers in question would violate the FAA reauthorization act of 1996, under which the agency adopted OPM special rate pay tables for certain occupations as of April 1, 1996. "The OPM special rates for information technology employees in question did not exist on April 1, 1996," wrote Thoman. "Any extension of those tables to bargaining unit employees within FAA is a change more appropriately addressed through the contract negotiations process." The union plans to take the issue to binding arbitration. "We think this is adversely affecting aviation safety," said Michael Derby, legal counsel for the union, which represents more than 11,000 FAA and Defense Department employees. "They are going to lose good computer specialists because of it. It's really a lose-lose situation for the FAA." The union submitted its arbitration request on Tuesday and hopes to present its case at a hearing within the next month. "In the meantime, you're going to have a lot of upset and disgruntled computer specialists out in the field," he said. "FAA doesn't seem to have any concern about the morale of the workforce."